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Inspiring Stories, Inspiring People

Grant K. Gibson, interior designer

Grant K. Gibson, interior designer

Meet Grant K. Gibson, one of the rising stars of interior design, who’s garnered praise from magazine editors across the country, built a clientele from Palm Beach and New York to Carmel and San Francisco, and attracted a huge following of devoted fans via his popular blog. Follow him on twitter: @grantkgibson, or check out his design work and blog, 

PPF: When you were little, what did you tell people you wanted to be when you grew up?

GKG: I always thought I’d become a pilot, probably because I loved the idea of traveling. Then, I went through a period of time when I thought I’d become a vet, because I loved animals. But then I realized I’d have to go to school for about 18 years to become one, and that it would involve more than petting cute dogs. The thought of blood steered me in another direction.

PPF: What was your first real job?

GKG: I was 16, and I got a job working at Peet’s Coffee & Tea every afternoon after school. I worked there for five years. In fact, I moved to San Francisco with them and went into store management.

PPF: So how did you make the transition from Peet’s to interior designer?

GKG: I was 20, and I wanted to move to New York. I had always dreamed of living there, and I saved some money and thought I would take a chance.  It’s something that I’d always said I’d do. I didn’t have a plan. To move there randomly like that was definitely something you do when you’re young and don’t know better. I stayed with friends of my family on their sofa for a little while till I found a job and got my first place. Through a friend of a friend I met a designer who needed a design assistant. I got the job with the designer and I learned about fabrics, furniture, space planning, everything about the industry. I went to client meetings across New York and in the Hamptons. That was how I got my start.

PPF: Did you always have an interest in design?

GKG: I grew up with parents who loved going to flea markets, art galleries and antiques stores.  It was something I was immersed in from a young age—I just didn’t know I could make a career out of it.

PPF: What’s been the lowest point in your career?

GKG: Early in my design career, I worked for very little money, and I struggled to survive in New York.  I realized quickly that this business isn’t as glamorous as it may seem on the surface. I think I made around $10 dollars an hour.  I remember I couldn’t afford to take the subway or the bus to and from work, so I’d always walk. Cold or hot, it was terrible—I would survive on a corner coffee stand’s dollar bagel and coffee and have two of those per day.

PPF: I’ve seen your refrigerator and been to your dinner parties. Things have improved since those days in New York.

GKG: Thankfully, yes. When I was in New York, I began doing friends’ places and someone would come for dinner and they’d say, “Oh Grant, can you help me do something at my place?” After four years in the city, and working on a lot of my own projects on the side, I began thinking of heading west again. I didn’t like the East Coast winters—or summers for that matter. I decided to take a huge leap and start my own firm. It was a decision that I can’t honestly suggest to everyone.  In looking back at this choice, it was a pretty crazy thing to do. Running a business is more complicated that one expects.

PPF: So you came back to San Francisco.

GKG: Yes, I moved back to San Francisco to figure out a way to parlay my side projects into a business.  I didn’t have a car and I was taking public transportation everywhere.  For one of the first projects that I worked on, I even had to transport items for the project in a taxi!

PPF: Was there a watershed moment in your career, where things changed for you?

GKG: I had always loved visiting showcase houses.  San Francisco has a great house every spring.  I noticed that in the back of the catalog, it mentioned that interested designers should be in contact. I submitted my portfolio—which was kind of limited at the time with projects from New York and my own apartment. I was shocked that I was asked to do the smallest room in the house.  I designed a space as sort of a gentleman’s room, filled with trophy cups and an old wing-back chair and worn rugs and flea market finds. This was the beginning, when it all really started.

PPF: Tell me about that first room.

GKG: I was on such a small budget for the space, so I refinished the floors myself and painted the walls myself and I found everything at flea markets and thrift stores and put up bamboo shades from Target. I felt so intimidated walking through the whole house and I thought, “Oh my gosh, everything’s from the Design Center, and here’s my funky little room.” Honestly, I thought, several times, “What have I done?” I didn’t have unlimited funds. The showcase house opened on my 25th birthday. I was afraid of revealing my age at the time. In fact, it wasn’t until the article on my apartment came out in the New York Times that I felt comfortable revealing my age—which was 30—because I’d gained some confidence and a little notoriety.

PPF: A little notoriety is an understatement. You are a media darling, Grant. You’ve been featured in almost every major design magazine. You had a full page in The New York Times.  Your projects have been featured in Elle Décor, House Beautiful, and Traditional Home. They’ve all heralded you as a designer to watch. And you don’t have a publicist pushing your name to editors, either. It’s all about your work.

GKG: Well, I’ve grown a lot, and my design has evolved over the years with the level of clients and my own confidence. Sure, I have made some mistakes, but I’ve learned from every one of them. That’s all part of life. Learning and growing. I’m a self-taught designer. I graduated from high school when I was 16 years old. I immediately started college and studied art history and psychology. I think when I moved to New York, I felt that maybe going to design school would be an option. But the way things played out, it wasn’t the path that happened at all. I was really given a chance of a lifetime and I never forget that someone took a chance on me. That is something that is very important to me. A recent assistant I hired didn’t have any experience in the design industry, but she had the passion. Some people just have a glimmer, a sixth sense about design that doesn’t come from school.

PPF: Who took a chance on you?

GKG:  When I decided to do my first showcase house, very good friends of my family offered me a financial loan. This ended up taking many years to pay back, as it was clear that the money was a loan and not a gift. They insisted that it was important to learn life lessons and pay bills just like in the real world. I am grateful to this day that I was able to start my career without having it handed to me on a silver platter, but really working hard to make something out of nothing.

PPF: I met you right before I scouted your 250-aquare-foot apartment in SF.  You had written our editor in chief a letter, and she forwarded it to me.

GKG: I was flipping through Better Homes & Gardens one night, and I saw a house that looked so familiar to me, and it turns out it was my childhood home in Los Angeles that had been redone after we moved out. It was amazing to see what they had done to it, and I wrote to the editor and she put me in touch with you. We met for a cup of coffee, which turned into three hours of non-stop talking. I really just wanted to introduce myself. I had no idea you’d want to shoot my little apartment.

PPF: But then you had me over.

GKG: And you ate all my food. You said, “I’m not hungry, no thanks, I’m not hungry,” but you ate an entire goat cheese and fig pizza that I made. I still laugh about that. You took pictures of my tiny place and pitched it, and you were the first national magazine to ever publish me.

PPF: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

GKG: Definitely the Times article. That was a dream come true. I woke up at the crack of dawn and ran to the corner store to buy the paper. My jaw dropped when I realized that I had a full page in the House & Garden section.

PPF: Your blog gets so much attention. Do you enjoy it?

GKG: Yes, I enjoy it and find it’s a way to express myself and show people a different side of my life. They see photos of my dogs, what I am inspired by, new recipes that I love, and they get a little glimpse into my personal world. A design web site can be static, where information isn’t changed that often. This is a great way to keep things up to date and fresh.

PPF: What led you to start the blog?

GKG: Well, I was in Paris on vacation with friends, taking photos of everything, and I wanted to share them with everyone back home. A blog seemed like a great way to put things online and then share with people.  I really enjoyed writing about my trip and sharing my adventures. When I returned, I decided to keep writing, and that was almost four years ago. I honestly was one of the first designers to start a blog. It has become an excellent tool for my business and career.

PPF: Who is the most fascinating person you’ve ever met?

GKG: Julia Child. I had the amazing honor of cooking for her.  It was like a dream come true. It was all arranged through family friends who knew how much I admired her. She was going to my friends’ house for brunch, and they invited me so I could meet her. I asked what I could bring, and they said, “Oh, you’re cooking.” I made a simple brunch, but the star was a lemon tart from the The French Laundry Cookbook. I sat next to Julia, and at some point I said that I’d love to go to Paris one day and take cooking lessons, and she leaned in, after finishing every bite of her slice of tart, and said, “You don’t need to go to Paris, Grant. Your tart was perfect.” That was the best compliment ever. I have a photo of the two of us framed in my kitchen, and I often look up there while I’m cooking and see her. She was such an inspiration.

PPF: What is essential to help you do your best work?

GKG:  Good strong coffee in the morning. A good night’s sleep. Relaxing and taking time at night and on weekends to completely shut work off is essential. I really need breaks to recharge. I recently have been doing Pilates a few days a week after work. It’s a great workout and releases stress.

PPF: Describe your version of the perfect Saturday.

GKG: Sleeping in, going to the farmer’s market, running errands, going to different grocery stores and lounging around my apartment and cooking all afternoon and having friends over for an early dinner with enough time to watch a movie in bed after everyone leaves.

PPF: What–or who–most inspires you & why?

GKG: Travel. I am inspired by new places, new cultures and learning about new things.

PPF: When have you been most daring in your life?

GKG: Taking the leap to start my own design firm.

PPF: When have you been most afraid?

GKG: I think that owning your own business tends to be a little frightening.  I fear where the next projects will come from. I also have a staff that relies on me to make a living. There is a lot of responsibity and pressure in that.

PPF: What is the best advice you ever got?

GKG: I always come back to a quote from Albert Hadley. I was really lucky to have met him a few years before he passed away. The quote says, “Decoration is really about creating a quality of life, and a beauty in that life that nourishes the soul, that makes life beautiful. That’s what all this is about, not just what’s in and what’s out.”

PPF: What do you want your last meal on earth to be?

GKG: I’d be at a café in Paris eating everything that was horribly fattening, because it wouldn’t matter, and there would be no guilt. It would definitely involve a lot of cheese.

PPF: What is the best purchase you’ve ever made? 

GKG: My dogs, Campbell and Wallace. I rescued them about 7 years ago. They bring so much joy into my life everyday.

PPF: What’s on your bedside table right now?

GKG: Stacks of magazines. We get about 40 a month at the office. From fashion to design from all around the world. I really do try to read more books, but sort of joke that I end up just looking at the pictures.

PPF: What’s the trip you keep talking about taking “one day?”

GKG: India.

PPF: First concert you ever went to?


PPF: Best concert you ever went to?

GKG: A tie between Diana Krall and Bjork.

PPF: I love you for that answer.

GKG:  I have diverse taste in music!

PPF: Song that would be the title track to the soundtrack of your life?

GKG:  It might sound corny, but “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.

PPF: What are you really good at that would surprise a lot of people?

GKG: I mix a mean cocktail.

PPF: If you could interview someone and ask him/her these questions, who would it be?

GKG: Newell Turner, editor in chief at Hearst. And Anh-Min Le, editor of Anthology. She started a print magazine in this digital age. It is quite a remarkable feat. I have such respect for her that she followed her dreams and took a leap of faith.


  1. Great article! Inspiring story! Hope to be there soon myself…..

    • Thank you so much for sharing this story.
      Your writing made me feel like I was in the room with the two of you on the interview.
      Grant lets people know that dreams can come true.

      Can’t wait to check back to your website.

  2. I have been following Grant’s career since he started out. He is HANDS DOWN the most talented designer in the bay area.
    Grant is going to be one of those names that we hear about for years to come.
    I am so happy to have found your site.

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